And you thought skimming the occasional milk pail was bad.
Halloween seems a good time to recall that nightjars, those mysterious nocturnal flutterers, have been rumored to engage in behavior far more treacherous than merely suckling at the udders of defenseless livestock.
In 1750, the Pomeranian ornithologist Jacob Theodor Klein listed as names for the European nightjar “witch,” “night harmer,” and something that seems to mean “child smotherer.”
Some of us snooty moderns may have our doubts, but the terrifying engraving that accompanies Klein’s account convinces me. Myself, I’m keeping the windows closed til Halloween is over.
Crows and ravens have it rough this time of year. Their deep voices, intimidating intelligence, and simple blackness have made them among the most halloweenish of birds.
Another, more colorful corvid has an equally ominous reputation. In eighteenth-century Sweden,
many believe that magpies are the attendants and instruments of the devil, and it is said that when the witches and bloodsucking sorceresses set out for their assemblies, they change themselves into the form of a magpie. And when in August the magpies molt the feathers of their necks, the common people say of this molt that “the magpies have gone to the witches’ assembly, and when they helped the devil carry his hay, the yoke rubbed the feathers from their neck.”